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Kind soles: 10-year-old collects shoes for homeless

Photo: David McGregor. McClain Hermes, a 10-year-old from Dacula, collected nearly 1,600 pairs of shoes for the Atlanta Mission, a ministry that provides emergency shelter, job attainment and transitional housing to more than 950 homeless men, women and children daily. McClain's service helped her win a $1,000 Kohl's Cares Regional Scholarship, which rewards youth volunteerism.

Photo: David McGregor. McClain Hermes, a 10-year-old from Dacula, collected nearly 1,600 pairs of shoes for the Atlanta Mission, a ministry that provides emergency shelter, job attainment and transitional housing to more than 950 homeless men, women and children daily. McClain's service helped her win a $1,000 Kohl's Cares Regional Scholarship, which rewards youth volunteerism.

DACULA -- When McClain Hermes set a collection goal for the second year of her Shoes for the Souls project, her dad issued her a challenge.

If she collected 1,000 pairs of shoes, he would let her shave his head.

"I didn't think that I would be able to," the 10-year-old said.

But she did. In fact, she collected nearly 1,600 pairs of shoes for the Atlanta Mission, a ministry that provides emergency shelter, residential discipleship, job attainment and transitional housing to more than 950 homeless men, women and children daily.

McClain's service helped her win a $1,000 Kohl's Cares Regional Scholarship, which rewards youth volunteerism. She was one of two youths from Gwinnett to win at the regional level -- Peachtree Ridge High School graduate Alexander Lopez was the other winner -- and she's in the running for one of 10 national scholarships worth an additional $9,000.

While McClain thinks it's "cool" that she won a scholarship, she didn't organize the project for the chance to earn some money.

"I wanted to collect (shoes), because there are people in need," she said. "I decided that it would be a good idea to help others and do something good for them. ... I wanted to help with one little thing that they couldn't get for themselves."

McClain first started collecting shoes for what she calls Shoes for the Souls when she was in third grade. Her first year, she received 360 pairs of shoes.

The next year, she gathered 1,598 pairs. She asked for donations from her neighbors, members of her family's church, her school, the school where her mom works and her dad's business.

"We had to rent a U-Haul to get them all down there," said her mother, Carmen Hermes.

"It was not just me and my dad doing it," McClain said. "It was a whole community helping."

Giving back to the community is important to the Hermes family. Each year, Matt and Carmen Hermes encourage their children -- McClain, 11-year-old Madeline and 12-year-old Logan -- to each head up a service project.

"We've been in a situation where we needed some help and support, and our community did that for us," Matt Hermes said. "We want to give back to people who can't help themselves."

The Hamilton Mill residents had the community rally around them when McClain needed eye surgery. McClain is visually impaired and has had surgeries to reattach her retinas in both eyes. On Thursday, she had a third surgery on her right eye, because her retina had detached again.

Additionally, Logan -- who, along with Madeline, was adopted from the Ukraine -- has a bleeding disorder.

Soon, McClain will start collecting shoes again for the Atlanta Mission. She also wants to collect toothbrushes and toothpaste for a project she named Reason to Smile.

"I will absolutely continue to help others," she said. "I hope it inspires other kids to help others. They're not too small to help others."